Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tune into “LIFE AFTER PEOPLE” Monday at 9pm!

Let me start with a reminder that my latest involvement in a TV show, a 2 hour special for The History Channel, is: LIFE AFTER PEOPLE, which premieres Monday, January 21st at 9pm/8pm central. Yes, I am just one of many talking heads in this one. But they give me first and last word.

(Actually, the producers seem to have chosen a particular frame of reference. for example, that humans didn’t make artifacts deliberately durable for extended time. A few such monuments already exist, however. And more are planned. Nevertheless, the show is way fun/cool. Tell your friends.)

(Want more depth on this topic? In his recent book, The World Without Us, Alan Weisman offers a pretty thorough look at how our civilization’s traces would erode and finally vanish, once no one is around to perform maintenance, by doing all those “dirty jobs.”)

More Scientific and Technological Wonders

See an amazing and cogent review of our energy and climate situation, by Dr. Steven Koonin, chief scientist of BP and my former Caltech classmate. I cannot over-emphasize how useful and important Koonin is! Here you have one of the smartest guys anywhwere, chief scientist for a major oil company, laying it all out and demolishing the "let's ignore climate change" mantra of the right. Perfect "ostrich ammo." He's done an even better presentation that I'll link-to, when it's available online.

Stefan Jones cited a recent article by Steven Pinker in the New York Times Magazine, about “The Moral Instinct” which covers much of the same area of interest as my longtime speculation about addictive indignation. As usual, Pinker is a compelling and informative read.

Bandit suggests: “A lot has changed since PC Magazine launched in 1982; after all, 25 years is an eternity in the tech world. With that in mind, here's what 14 industry leaders and PC Mag staffers see in store for the next 25.

The past year has seen plenty of new technologies and inventions unveiled, some to make life easier, some with the potential to save lives, and some that might even help rescue the planet. Then there were a few odd ones as well, for example a new mechanical nose that used a healthy helping of artificial snot to sniff out odors and a leech-like robot crawled around the chest cavities of live pigs to perform surgery.... see especially the cool three-legged walker! ... See an interesting debate over whether we should continue efforts in manned spaceflight.

Predictions registry alert! Somebody put this on that Brin Predictions wiki!! Movie characters from the Terminator to the Bionic Woman use bionic eyes to zoom in on far-off scenes, have useful facts pop into their field of view, or create virtual crosshairs. Off the screen, virtual displays have been proposed for more practical purposes -- visual aids to help vision-impaired people, holographic driving control panels and even as a way to surf the Web on the go. The device to make this happen may be familiar. Engineers at the UW have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights.

As 2007 drew to a close, it was also shaping up to be the hottest year on record in the Northern Hemisphere. U.S. weather stations broke or tied 263 all-time high temperature records, according to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. weather data. England had the warmest April in 348 years of record-keeping there, shattering the record set in 1865 by more than 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn't just the temperature. There were other oddball weather events. A tornado struck New York City in August, inspiring the tabloid headline: "This ain't Kansas!" Meanwhile, the insurance industry faced $75 billion of losses from natural catastrophes during 2007, up 50% from last year despite a lack of "megacatastrophes,"

Solar cells, LCDs, and some other devices, must have transparent electrodes in parts of their designs to let light in or out. These electrodes are usually made from indium tin oxide (ITO) but experts calculate that there is only 10 years' worth of indium left on the planet, with LCD panels consuming the majority of existing stocks. Transparent electrodes created from atom-thick carbon sheets could make solar cells and LCDs without depleting precious mineral resources, say researchers in Germany.

The recent boom in video monitoring—by both the state and businesses—means we're all being watched. It's like something out of George Orwell's 1984. Except that, unlike Orwell's protagonist Winston Smith, we can watch back—and plenty of people are doing just that. Which makes a difference. However, government officials and big corporations often want to watch us, but they don't want to be watched in return. Shopping malls are full of security cameras, but many have signs at the entrance telling customers that no photography or video recording is allowed. Police cars have dashboard cameras, cities and counties are posting red-light and speed-limit cameras. But try shooting photos or video of police or other public officials as they go about their business and you might find yourself in wrist restraints. In recent months such cases have been piling up.

Of course, this is the "privacy war" I've long forecaste, from EARTH to The Transparent Society.

For US Army soldiers entering basic training at Fort Jackson Army base in Columbia, South Carolina, accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior appears to be as much a part of the nine-week regimen as the vigorous physical and mental exercises the troops must endure. That's the message directed at Fort Jackson soldiers, some of whom appear in photographs in government issued fatigues, holding rifles in one hand, and Bibles in their other hand. Frank Bussey, director of Military Ministry at Fort Jackson, has been telling soldiers at Fort Jackson that "government authorities, police and the military = God's Ministers." Military Ministry says its staffers are responsible for "working with Chaplains and Military personnel to bring lost soldiers closer to Christ, build them in their faith and send them out into the world as Government paid missionaries" - which appears to be a clear-cut violation of federal law governing the separation of church and state.

In an "unforeseen and unprecedented" shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned. The changes created "a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food," particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The agency's food price index rose by more than 40% this year, compared with 9% the year before. New figures show that the total cost of foodstuffs imported by the neediest countries rose 25%, to $107 million, in 2007.

A look into the future that never was. This is a delightful website that will let you browse through future predictions of the past. Pick a decade in the late nineteenth or twentieth century, click on it and read what someone thought the future would be. Some predictions are spot on: in 1910, Thomas Edison predicted, "The clothes of the future will be so cheap that every young woman will be able to follow the fashions promptly, and there will be plenty of fashions.” Some predictions are way off. And some are hilarious.

Signing off. In a week I’ll be in Liechtenstein. Store word-usage cues and other before-after comparisons, in case I am pod-personed. Meanwhile, tune in to “Life After People” and watch that Koonin video!


David Brin said...


See my dolphins simply being amazing:


Thanks RobS.

David McCabe said...

*heart* dolphins. We have just got to figure out how to talk to 'em.

Anonymous said...

Another reason we really, really, don't want Mike Huckabee to be President: He's associated with loony and scary Christian activists.

David Brin said...

Oh, man. Yipes.

One reason I hope Huckabee becomes the nominee. It is time to have this out. In the open.

Better now than 2012, when Heinlein forecast the arrival of Nehemia Scudder

Anonymous said...

(Zorgon the Malevolent, logon kaput)

Here's the most uderreported story of the 18 months. These developments make the War On Terror pointless and unnecessary:

Our civilization is destroying their civilization. And without firing a shot. The medievalist mindset in the middle east is collapsing, falling apart, rotting from within -- and the women are causing it. Last year, Saudi women were attacking religious police.

Now the Saudis are giving women the right to futile hopes of stemming women's suffrage in the Kingdom of Saud.



The women will just use their newfound right to drive to shuttle their women friends to protest meetings for more women's rights.

Once this happens, it's all over. Total equality for women is the only outcome. And once that happens...look out. Suddenly you've got a merit-based society. Women questioning everything. Free thought, cats, dogs, living together, it's basically the last half hour of the movie Ghostbusters as far as the religious fundamentalists are concerned.

Women's rights will destroy the medieval mindset in the third world and usher in modernization. It's inevitable. Our civlization, which offers equality for women and advancement by merit and policies based on open debate and evidence, will destroy their civilization (which is based on oppressing people and maintaining rigid castes and hierarchies and dictating sharia from an ancient book written in the 7th century A.D.).

Far from being a dangerous uprising at the start of a huge campaign against the West, as neocons claim, Islamic terror is the pitiful last gasp of a dying civilization collapsing before the onslaught of modern media, transparency, the scientific method, and women's liberation. We don't have to fire a shot. All we have to do is beam TV shows and pop music into the third world and drop the latest women's fashions and science texts from C-47s over their countries, and they'll come apart like a wedding cake in the rain.

Anonymous said...

David Brin wrote: "a 2 hour special for The History Channel, is: LIFE AFTER PEOPLE, which premieres Monday, January 21st at 9pm/8pm central"

Oops. I checked the History Channel at about 5pm eastern time and scanned forward to well past midnight and didn't see anything like this. Something about Rome was on at 9pm eastern time, and other things that were not LIFE AFTER PEOPLE were on at all other times close by, earlier or later.

Looks like you got the date wrong, or the time wrong by several hours in one direction or the other.

Or the chuckleheads that schedule things on TV these days made another of their colossally blunderous last-minute switcheroos. They've not had any of the CSIs (new episodes *or* reruns) in their usual time slots for a week now, and have been steadily getting less and less dependable for years, so I wouldn't put it past them.

David Brin said...

Funny. It ran on time 9pm Monday) here on the west coast.

Zorgon, the general trend you describe is both what we hope for and what they fear. See how I predicted this way back in 1977:

And yet, I think you are vastly too sanguine about one little news item and blow up its significance way out of proportion. These guys are very smart, very well educated, floating in a veritable Pacific Ocean of cash, can hire the very best advisors, ranging from geniuses to thugs, and are deeply determined.

Indeed, if the catastrophic first 7 years of this century are indicative, they are already in charge over HERE. I see no reason to believe they are losing their grip yet, over there.

Oh, they will. But it will be tough and long.

Anonymous said...

The show was cool - though I felt they exaggerated some of the 5 year effects, given how relatively intact the cities in the Chernobyl region look after 20 years. E.g. the streets there were NOT completely hidden by a layer of dirt and vegetation.

In my area at least, the show was deliberately preceded by a show about 2012 "end of time" prophecies. That, and my distaste for some of the interviewees' enthusiasm for the end of humanity, make me think that in the net, the value of the cool effects is over-shadowed by the meme cost - i.e. lending mind-share to the fanatics apparently working to make this become the "end times".

Some stuff that would stay around a VERY long time, though hard to find:

Silicon Chips (non-functional) - modern hieroglyphics.
Glass marbles, eyes, electrical insulators, lenses, etc.
Signs of man on the moon, deep-space probes, high orbiting space junk.
Crazy Horse monument, any hard stone statue in the open where nothing will fall on it before it gets safely buried, arrowheads.
Gold and silver coins and jewelry that get buried in decayed bank vaults and jewelry stores.
Rail lines - not the rails, but the raised and leveled paths, going hundreds of miles.
Artificial genes that escape into the wild.
Concrete structures in dry desert areas, at least until climate change makes those areas wet again.
Our CO2 will last at least 1000 years, and signs of our strip mining and and oil depletion will be detectable for quite a long time.

Matt DeBlass said...

It ran at 9 pm here in New Jersey. It was pretty cool, I don't have cable at home, so me and a couple o' people hung around in the local pub watching it.
Unfortunately, I missed the last 15 minutes or so, but I'll catch it again.

Those poor cockroaches!

Anonymous said...

Movie characters from the Terminator to the Bionic Woman use bionic eyes to zoom in on far-off scenes, have useful facts pop into their field of view, or create virtual crosshairs.

Pointless nitpicking: The Bionic Woman had a bionic ear, but normal eyes in the original series, I believe. It was her predecessor the Six Million Dollar Man who had the bionic eye.

I missed the show because of the holiday. I'll have to try and catch a rerun.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps another interesting piece of information re: changes in the Arab world...

This article in Scientific American seems to say that there will be an enclave of modernist thinking there soon. Women and men take classes together, religious "police" banned from the area, lots of scholarships and money for good professors...

It could be a put-up job, but even so it might be the crack in the's hoping

David Brin said...

Since discussion is pretty tepid, let me post here a response that I offered the mighty mathematician himself, Stephen Wolfram, when he wrote to me recently about his own take on the ubiquity of intelligent life in the universe:

I share your skepticism of many of the assumptions in most modern SETI searches: e.g. the supposed nature of prime numbers as indicators of intelligence.

Yes, intelligence and quasi-intelligence can, in theory, take so many forms that we should be sifting through a vast menagerie of confusing signals and “evidence” in order just to find “intelligence” that is somewhat like our own.

But, that’s the problem. The evidence up there appears to offer very little that even remotely seems of intelligent origin. Their is no murk of ambiguous messages and overflow from a myriad kinds of mentation. There are no signs at all.

In my own speculations about the nature and ubiquity of intelligence, I have found that there are a number or angles from which to vew the problem.

1) Since we are restricted to the example of Earth, we muct appraise the different levels of intelligence achieved by peer species. In recent years, it has appeared that chimps, gorillas, bottlenose dolphins, and gray parrots all have the ability to ponder abstract symbologies, manipulate those symbols in order to solve first-order puzzles, and visualize pragmatic problems “as if from the outside,” which evidently requires internal models of the physical world.

All are able to mirror-envision the needs and simple desire-sets of other beings. All can engage in conversation at a very basic level.

We have no way of knowing whether there were similar numbers of creatures who achieved this level in the past (e.g. Speilberg’s dinosaur geniuses, the velociraptors). It could be that Earth needed a long time to achieve dolphin chim levels of intelligence, from which the leap to human levels may now be natural. (In some of my novels, I portray this approach.)

I suspect that it is otherwise -- that dolphin-chimp levels are relatively easy to achieve. Indeed, given the smallness of the gray parrot’s physical brain, it seems likely that these high levels of mentation aren’t all that difficult.

2) If the great leap is, instead, from dolphin-chimp-parrot levels to our own, then the galaxy’s apparent paucity of technological civilization may have its roots in the Drake Equation’s f(i).

In fact, my own hypothesis is that there may be plenty of species who gradually work themselves up from chimp levels to that of Homo ergaster or early Homo sapiens. Whereupn, with stone tools, maybe a little metal, domesticated herds, and lots of fire, they would dominate their world and cease to be driven much farther along the road to reflective intelligence.

In which case, they might quickly turn their worlds into deserts, and the Great Silence would be explained.

Hence, to my mind, the real puzzler is how humanity leaped so suddenly, in just the last 35,000 years, to mentation levels that are capable of not only extreme resource manipulation, but also contemplating abstract outcomes l;ike environmental degradation. And possibly even find solutions before Earth’s surplus entirely vanishes.

3) My own ruminations about this incredible surge, from the static societies of archaic Homo sapiens to guys like my classmate Steven Koonin (chief scientist at BP: have led me to believe that our prodigiously excessive mental abilities came about because of one of evolution’s “runaway drivers”.

Darwin knew one runaway driver better than others, sexual selection.
See my paper about this at:

In other words, we may have overshot our direct brainpower needs, because female humans found it sexy.

Matt DeBlass said...

We have overpowered intellects because females found big brains sexy?
My own recent experience suggests that the evolutionary pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way. ;-)

Alex Tolley said...

Show was fun. IMO, it suffered from the current trend of lots of fancy graphics, too little information and over-dramatic voice-overs. (I find most current science documentaries almost unwatchable). After seen a bridge collapse several times, I really want to know how many bridges are steel vs stone, and which types of bridges would fail first. Clearly stone bridges have survived reasonably intact for many hundreds of years.

Some of the changes were very US centric - e.g. termite destruction of wood buildings, and of course the megafauna like bears and wolves would have to migrate a long way in Europe.

One fact was surprising - paper books lasting only 2-300 years even with special care? There are plenty of old books that have lasted way longer than this even without care.

Of course we seem to lose structures even with care. Little work seems to be being done to design structures that could be relatively maintenance free and thus resistant to the effects of poor maintenance schedules.

Anonymous said...

atolley noted:

IMO, it suffered from the current trend of lots of fancy graphics, too little information and over-dramatic voice-overs. (I find most current science documentaries almost unwatchable).

Same feeling here. Not exactly a dumbing down, but bland and visually oriented. This is true of lots of stuff on Discover, History Channel, and perhaps others. They're like big picture books, with too-infrequent nuggets of good information.

Contrast with the gripping and intimate WWII documentary "The War."

Anonymous said...

Hey, it's TV! What do you expect!? 50% of consumers are below average intelligence, and TV wants to sell stuff to as many as possible.

I suspect genetics would indicate that we're not very far above chimps.

It may just be the "always in heat" mutation that drove humans beyond that level, making it difficult for one male to dominate, creating lots of competition.

And surely it has been mostly intra-human competition that has been driving us for a long time?

Anonymous said...

Conincidentally, there's an article in the NYTimes about group selection as an evolutionary driver:

Political Animals.

'Wherever animals must pool their talents and numbers into cohesive social groups, scientists said, the better to protect against predators, defend or enlarge choice real estate or acquire mates, the stage will be set for the appearance of political skills — the ability to please and placate, manipulate and intimidate, trade favors and scratch backs or, better yet, pluck those backs free of botflies and ticks.

Over time, the demands of a social animal’s social life may come to swamp all other selective pressures in the environment, possibly serving as the dominant spur for the evolution of ever-bigger vote-tracking brains. And though we humans may vaguely disapprove of our political impulses and harbor “Fountainhead” fantasies of pulling free in full glory from the nattering tribe, in fact for us and other highly social species there is no turning back. A lone wolf is a weak wolf, a failure, with no chance it will thrive.'

sociotard said...

Some more develpoments in robot flies with cameras

David Brin said...

A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The study concluded that the statements "were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."
The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.

Hence a simple question for that ostrich of yours: "Do we judge a president's trustworthiness by whether we catch him in ONE lie about things having nothing to do with his job? Or on the basis of hudreds, even thousands, dealing with the good of the nation and wise execution of the job that we hired him for?"

Anonymous said...

You beat me too it, DB!

Can we impeach these bastards yet? Not out of spite, but to show that that this behavior is unacceptable.

Conservatives love to lecture about "defining down deviancy" and talk about falling standards of public conduct. Isn't lying to the public as a means of dragging the country into a disastrous, expensive war unacceptable, unlawful behavior?

If conservatives can justify this miserable conduct, why should we take them seriously about anything?

sociotard said...

Unless Bush honest to God thought there really were WMDs. The press counted false statements, not statements that were known to be false.

Oh, a Texas man is running for County treasurer with the campaign promise that he won't do his job.
Elect Me and I won't serve
He also promises to not pick up a paycheck or benefits. It's his way of saying the position shouldn't exist.

Rades said...

I saw "Life After People". It was ok, but the "green is better" than technology slant got a little old.

Something they forgot - We have created a legacy of sorts that may last the lifetime of our Solar System. That legacy is the ~1000 vehicles we have put into geosynchronous orbit. (Satellites at that altitude do not decay and will (yes some will collide – but not all) be up there for millions of years)

Add to that both the bits of hardware we left on the moon and a number of birds/rocket bodies that are in a heliocentric orbit.

The five spacecraft that are leaving the vicinity of the Sun will basically exist as long as the universe exists.

Matt DeBlass said...

V'ger! I thought about the spaceship thing when they were talking about how records would not last at all.

Sad essay on transparency, or the lack thereof, in medical research from the NY Times,

But on the upside of the transparency front, one of the municipalities I cover (I'm a reporter for a small-town newspaper) has started streaming their meetings live on the internet, and archiving them for public viewing.
Dirt cheap, too, which shoots down the excuse that other municipal bodies have been using when asked if they would broadcast their meetings.

Mark said...

Ostrich bait: the Center for American Progress has a terrific timeline of "next few months" statements about the Iraq war (via Carpetbagger Report via Think Progress).

Anonymous said...

This is true of lots of stuff on Discover, History Channel, and perhaps others. They're like big picture books, with too-infrequent nuggets of good information.

Kinda like The Future Is Wild? I bought the book, hoping to see some of the background details that they used to create the animals (not the animations, but the calculations, ecological details, etc that the TV show (and the book) says the scientists did to make the animals realistic. Nothing -- one picture of an open notebook showing tantalizing glimpses of the calculations to figure out how to support the megasquid on land (with a pneumatic skeleton). Other than that, very little more information than in the TV series.

I contrast that with companion books to BBC TV series, which contain a wealth of information that wasn't in the TV series. One reason I'm very underwhelmed with Discovery Channel is the way they dumb things down even when there is no need to.

Alex Tolley said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees current science documentaries as dumbed down. Even the much hyped "Mars Rising" was just endless re-showings of the CGI ships and almost no real information about the problems, just rehashes of stuff that is almost common knowledge. It seems if you cannot show a dramatic clip representing some idea, then it isn't worth mentioning.

However grumbling about this state of affairs is probably as useless as wanting to see a good news channel.

When C. M Kornbluth wrote "The Marching Morons", little did he suspect that while genetics didn't dumb us down, the media corporations would do the job instead.

As David Brin expostulates so frequently on this blog, perhaps we really are getting dumber when exposed to so much blather in our social spheres.

Anonymous said...

"Isn't lying to the public as a means of dragging the country into a disastrous, expensive war unacceptable, unlawful behavior? ... If conservatives can justify this miserable conduct, why should we take them seriously about anything?"

David Brin said...

Zecharia, we hire presidents to CHECK their facts or have smart professionals do so. The levels of sheer panic and imminent threat and screeches "here's proof!" mean that W is responsible for every lie. In fact, it's a bit scarier to imagine that he believed his crap.

Colin Powell. He is the ghost at the banquet. He slunk away, shamed by the lies they crammed into his mouth. He let us down. Was supposed to be the adult in the room. HE OWES US! Powell knows plenty. He could come forward. He could end the neocon era, shatter Rove's Big Tent, and ensure a transition to better days. If there was ever a time for a man to step forward, this is it.

Good pt re geosynchronous sats. Hey, it wasn't "my" show. They put a few of my remarks in. Still, I thought it was fun.

Oh, someone wrote in: "ever heard of a stretch of the PA turnpike (I-76) that was bypassed in 1968 and contains 2 tunnels and was essentially left alone for the past 40 years? It looks like a world of life after people are you aware of this place? Try this link:" Forty years later, the concrete looks pretty strong and vegetation-free.

Great "next six months" timeline, Mark. I'll add it to

The Future Is Wild! was way fun and utterly deceitful. Said "scientists believe" dozens of time about future evolution!

FUTURE RIFF ALERT: I will post about a growing phenomenon among ostrich republicans. Some are awakening, furious at Bushite imperialism and criminality. They admit it... and that the world now hates us...

...and have responded by swinging into traditional isolationism! Like sufferers from bipolar disease, their reaction to this utter manic/imperialist/interventionist debacle is to go utterly depressive and withdraw inside our borders. To them, our international unpopularity is not proof that we've disappointed our allies and need to lead better. It is proof that the world is un-leadable and we should take our marbles home.

Instead of restoring the international popularity that is one of the hallmarks of good world leadership (and that Clinton built to unprecedented heights), the new ostrich response is "#$#@! the world!"

Watch for this view to start appearing in the press, among GOP leaders and so on. At least as a trial balloon or sop, thrown to give these people an incantatory excuse to hope the NEXT bunch of Republicans might be different... and to vote against Hillary.

Tony Fisk said...

...which would explain Powell's silence, maybe.

I recall Rove's parting remark that his fondest wish was for Hilary to be the Democrat Presidential candidate.

Dan Hind has an interesting article in New Scientist which will strike some chords:
What are the true threats to reason?

He discusses patterns of suppression, skewing and obfuscation of inconvenient research data, and identifies unscrupulous corporations and the state as the biggest threats, well ahead of religious zealotry (which is what he claims reason's main paladins, like Dawkins, are spending too much time mention of our host, though)

While he points out 'the monsters in the lighted room', what he does *not* comment on is whether this behaviour is deliberate and orchestrated, or whether it is isolated (but widespread) corporate greed overcoming principles of citizenship to cash in on the moment.

Considering our previous discussions of FIBM vs GAR, when applied to 'the dark' I'm not sure which would be a worse form of threat.

Anonymous said...

(from Zorgon the Malevolent, logon kaput)

Concerning SETI:

...Would bacteria growing on the underside of a log in the woods find much evidence of human intelligence, however diligently they looked for it?

As Arthur C. Clarke has pointed out, other intelligent creatures are probably not going to have civilizations exactly as old as ours, but are much more likely to have civilizations millions or billions of years ahead of ours, resulting in technologies and modes of being we can't even imagine.


And now (as Monty Python were wont to say) for something complete different:


In many fields, there are already too many Ph.Ds awarded for the full-time academic posts available, creating a surplus of likely jobseekers. That pool becomes adjuncts, who command wages and benefits so low that universities find them irresistible hires.

"It's not uncommon to have a disconnect like this in higher education, in which people are both concerned about the difficult career prospects being faced by recent Ph.D. graduates and concerned there aren't enough Ph.D. students," said Michael Teitelbaum, of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The ideas, he said, "often don't get connected. It's puzzling."


It's not just humanities. Groups such as the Business Roundtable have grabbed headlines with urgent warnings about the need to ramp up production of American scientists. In fact, Teitelbaum testified to Congress last year, there is no evidence of a shortage of scientists and engineers — particularly on the Ph.D. track.

In the life sciences, the U.S. is awarding twice as many doctorates as two decades ago, but has no more faculty jobs, according to one recent study that prompted the journal Nature to editorialize that "too many graduate schools may be preparing too many students." A 1998 National Research Council made much the same warning.

Nonetheless, universities keep flooding the academic pipeline. (..)

"We have flooded the labor market with Ph.Ds who can't get jobs doing what they've been trained to do," said Cat Warren, a North Carolina State English professor and state American Association of University Professors leader, who recently gave a talk to graduate students at nearby Duke warning them to be realistic. "I think we have to think very hard about that.";_ylt=AlIM1MivyhNK1Z2UyYTBVv8DW7oF

The problem is that every study since WW II has shown that if you want to make more money in America, you need a higher level of education. For example, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics studies, "More learning is the key to higher income":

How do we reconcile these two trends? It's not obvious.

David Brin said...

orgon, the articles you cite have a deeply flawed premise. Fatally and egregiously flawed. The notion that all PhDs must be targeted at university faculty positions.

I have seen this vastly dumb notion all my adult life and it is criminally stupid.

A PhD demonstrates that a poerson has dedicated her/himself to a monklike venture in advancing human knowledge somewhere on its periphery. That's it. Both the dedication that showed and the expertise it requires then manifest in a degree that can and should speak volumes about the person to any employer.

(It can scream "overqualified!" But that's up to the degree holder to mollify.)

Civilization ought to find lots of uses for such people. Many flag officers in the military get PhDs. Many tech industries hire em. Moreover, many are NOT by nature qualified to be college professors and teach!

In a world of accelerating change plus vastly increased opportunity for education, we had BETTER offer opportunities for ever-more such people. But I have no problem with some of them becoming taxi drivers.

Anonymous said...

The best thing to do might be the encourage these excess PhDs to become entrepreneurs. Make their own jobs!

Anonymous said...

It doesn't help that "Life After People" lead into a show about underwater UFOs. Everything on the History Channel is dumbed down for a (scientifically) illiterate audience.

I keep watching their "The Universe" series, but I've given up on learning anything I didn't know when I was 12, or couldn't find on Wikipedia in five seconds. Even the CGI is amateur looking. I watch it mostly to see Benford explain things, wondering who else I might recognize.

Which reminds me, PBS is running the NOVA on galactic center black holes right now - "If you stick your finger down in there, you ain't getting it back."

False Data said...

Re. the presidential campaign, Long Now has an interesting article on the Iowa Electronic Market's presidential campaign prediction market. The graphs of midnight closing prices for the various candidates are fascinating.

Re. DB's comment about isolationism, I'm sorry I'm not more of a historian: I'd love to be able to compare the social trends towards polarization and isolation today with those in the late 1920's top to mid 1930's.

I want to challenge this idea of ostriches, though. Maybe thinking about the U.S.'s isolationism of the late 1920's has me in a funky mood, but I'm concerned that it lumps too many people into a single mold. I'm still mentally feeling my way through this idea, but I think one of the fundamental axes in this whole liberal/conservative debate is how much faith a person is willing to put in others. If someone has little faith in others, he or she might naturally lean towards solutions that harness powerful instincts like greed, which leads towards market-based solutions to problems. On the other hand, someone who puts more faith in others might favor solutions that attempt to optimize overall social welfare beyond the levels achievable by (mostly) rational self-interested actors.

Now, it's true there are a lot of people in this world who don't have, or won't expend, the time or energy to do an independent assessment of the facts. But there are also a lot of people who are acting the way they're acting because their life experiences, and the information they've gathered, have led them to a particular assessment of how the people in society around them tend to behave. If someone tends to like market solutions because he or she believes most people act selfishly most of the time, small wonder that person might also lean towards self-reliance and, ultimately, isolationism in the face of what he or she perceives to be a hostile, selfish world.

As I said, I'm still playing around with this idea. I'm not quite willing to commit to it yet, but I'm throwing it out there to see if it strikes a chord.

Anonymous said...

My company employs both PhDs and guys who dropped out of high school because it got in the way of their education. They're both valued, but it's the PhD that will be picked to go to conferences and write up patents.

A good college friend has a PhD in particle physics. He actually had a university research job, working on particle-accelerator detector hardware and software, but it didn't pay the bills. So he gladly took a job with a high tech company started by alumni of the department.

* * *

One of the few things that History Channel and Discover do well is pick good people to be their talking heads. And I don't say that to be a brown noser! But I agree with Len. Overall the shows are light duty stuff. NOVA does a much better job.

For science news, I like:

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David Brin said...

false data, your dichotomy might work... if conservatism had anything whatsoever to do with boosting genuine free markets. But you'll not find more than a scintilla of anything more than relentless lip service.

Stock market value, economic metrics and small business startups always do better under democrats.

There is a better correlation with authoritarianism, retro-nostalgia and anti-science. Still, of these there are many lefties who are also nostalgic-retro and authoritarian and - yes - anti-engineering... another color of the same romanticism.

The chief diff is that the psychopaths of the right took over their political party and the moderate sane conservatives are too deluded to even fight for it. While the loony psychopaths of the left are not in charge of the Democratic Party, never have been and show no prospect of ever being in charge of it.

No. The real diff is this. (I believe) Conservatives nurse a deep skepticism toward expanding the tribal circle of inclusion. They always yearn for loyalties closer to home, self etc. Lefties, otoh, are so devoted to expanding that circle that they often abandon the older fealties prematurely.

Anonymous said...

David Brin wrote: To them, our international unpopularity is not proof that we've disappointed our allies and need to lead better. It is proof that the world is un-leadable and we should take our marbles home.

Do they think the world is ungovernable, or just that the US has clearly demonstrated that it is incapable of doing it?

I can't get plants to grow, but that doesn't make me think that gardening is impossible. Just that I can't do it and should not try.

And since we are constantly being told that everything the US tries is either intentionally evil (or so screwed up that it works out the same as if it was), wouldn't the whole world be better off if the US did nothing?

And no, this isn't something that is due to the current administration's incredibly bad record. Since I first became aware of the larger world in the 1970s I have never heard any variation in the constant claims that the US is responsible for every bad thing in the world. Only the details change to fit current events.

David Brin said...

That is a refrain that I have always despised (not your but the messaage you describe) all of my life. People know no history.

Yes, the US has stomped around in its role as an imperial-scale power. There is much to atone-for, from banana-republic interventions to Iran in the 1950s-1970s. But we are human beings and humans with power, historically, have thrown it around. The alternatives: chaos, local bickers and wars, are almost never better for the overall number of people than a pax imperium is.

And there is no way that any other pax has as large a number of POSITIVE on its balance sheet than Pax Americana. Had Britain and France listened to Wilson, in 1919, Hitler might have been avoided. The fact that we could IMPOSE those values in 1945 gave the world a chance to begin climbing out of its nadir-hell.

GOP isolationism in 1935 tried to stay out of any preparation to confront fascism.

GOP isolationism in 1945 tried to stay out of a Cold War with the Soviet evil empire (and Reagan was later right about that). But Marshall's plan (merely end-gamed by Reagan) worked. Ask the people of Poland and Estonia whether we should have done nothing!

What these bipolar swings, from manic interventionism to depressive isolationism, prove is that even the decent wing of conservatism is largely out of its cotton-pickin' mind.

David Brin said...

A Great Piece of Ostrich Ammo

Sometimes an ostrich needs it in a single whack. This chart shows how GWB's seven years in office have affected the U.S. and shows a comparison with eight years under President Clinton.{D68CD0B2-1442-4804-9F6B-AF67DE7FF585}&DE={FDD09C4F-E958 4E13-A92B-179C2FAC6FEA}&Design=PrintView

Anonymous said...

"In other words, we may have overshot our direct brainpower needs, because female humans found it sexy."

This seems at odds with the observed inverse correlation between nerdiness and getting laid.

And I still have not got a satisfactory explanation for not seeing that show. If it was on at 9pm on the west coast, it should have been on at 6pm here. But the History Channel had something else on at 6pm here too. (It definitely didn't have Life After People anytime from 5pm till after midnight here.) Neither did Discovery, Discovery Civilization, or any of the other clump of edu-channels I get via satellite.

Alex Tolley said...

reruns: THC, Feb 2nd, 5-7pm (pacific)

David Brin said...

anonymous. Usually when a show runs at 9pm west coast... it has already run at the same time east coast. Only Central has a difference.

And yes, women seem to be distracted from their (imputed) earlier fascination with brains. alas! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Females, overall, value strength, symetrical faces and bodies, smells that indicate a good immune system, bright eyes, clear skin, full and shiny hair, and high social status in men. They also value intelligence.

Intelligence doesn't trump the rest of it in most cases, and certainly never did, but it's at least around the middle of the list.

We wouldn't be here if it was the ONLY thing on the list.

False Data said...

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding, but it seems to me that if you start from the distinction I mentioned, you arrive at the "real diff" you wrote about. Someone who tends to put less faith in others will put a greater emphasis on family ties and on like-thinking people: blood's thicker than water and all that. Similarly, someone who puts greater faith in others would tend to vest less importance in those traditional family and community ties.

But you're right that the distinction has problems. One of the biggest is that liberals, conservatives, independent thinkers, and whatever other political groups seem all too eager to demonize outsiders, or at least to tag them with a convenient label and then state general "truths" about everyone so tagged. If the left were really more inclusive than the right, I'd expect to hear "right wing nut-job" a lot less often than "liberal hippie" (substitute your favorite terms--there are several scattered through the comments of this blog and most other moderately high traffic ones). But when I tune out the viewpoints and just listen to the labels, I don't hear much difference.

Anonymous said...

An internet group calling itself "Anonymous" (not to confused with posters on this blog) have declared War on Scientology.

Mark said...

Music & Poetry



That's the theory of where human intelligence comes from. We aren't talking about women liking guys with protractors.

Note that the Neanderthals had bigger brains than we did. They had fire and tools and cooperation.

But they didn't have art.

And I suspect they didn't have gods. Nor any other explanation of where we came from. I suspect it never occurred to them to ask.

Perhaps I'm pushing this, as the theory suggests millions of years and includes the Neanderthals as some of the beneficiaries. But perhaps not, perhaps they were the top of the line intelligent animals. But not us.

David Brin said...

false data: I never said that lefties were more mature or less prone to human failings that righties. ALL fanatically dogmatic romantics are inherently bigoted creatures who strawman and demonize their opponents, instead of viewing them as potential partners for negotiation.*

Both sides devote fealty on many levels. To surface catechisms (political correctness or the Book of Revelations or belief that CEOs who engage in GAR are devoted to markets). And to deeper psychological drives.

But here's a big difference: the fundamental psychological drive of the left is to devote fanatical, exclusionary and incantatory fealty to the process of horizon expansion. Yes, this is utterly ironic and hypocritical and inherently weird. But it is what we see. They are also frenetic.

Conservatives, by contrast, are deeply skeptical of horizon expansion and resist it where possible. This may be troglodytic... and I may prefer the lefty agenda overall because at least it moves us toward being better... but at least in this one area, the right is consistent.

On the other hand, the right is manic-depressive (as we'll see, next posting. So emotionally they swing between bipolar highs and snarky lows.

It is often said that rightists score much higher on obedience to authority. Surveys show this - and yet I think part of it may be an artifact of definitions. Romantic lefties strike me as just as subject to reflex obedience to incantations and opinion leaders. Though at least they make more noise and move about and express themselves more.

All told, I prefer modernists... a word I am trying to reclaim, because there is no classification as yet for militant moderates, for pragmatist negotiator problem-solvers, for people in the middle who differ from the dogmatists NOT because we are tepid! But because we are fundamentally and mentally DIFFERENT FROM THEM!

Because we believe in problem-solving and the Enlightenment and mixed solutions that use both markets and consensus action, and trying solutions and abandoning those that OUGHT to have worked, but didn't.

Yes, a plague on both their houses, for getting us into this mess, with the anti-science fixation of the right and the anti-engineering fetish of the left.

Except for one thing. THE LEFT IS INEFFECTUAL AND DOES NOT HAVE THE POWER TO DO SHIT. They don't control a major political party, or a nation, or troops, or mysterious black-ops mercenary regiments.

The far-right does.


* And yes! My very first para seems to commit the same crime I am describing! That's another diff. We modernists can step outside and see what human nature makes of us. We can compensate. Laugh at ironies. Get the joke. And move on.

Hank Roberts said...

Found mentioned several places recently, and really good:

Anonymous said...

I checked the History Channel's program listings from 5 until midnight eastern time and didn't see Life After People at all. And as I mentioned in my first comment, what was on at 9 local time was something about ancient Rome.

Unless there are two different History Channels with the same name, this seems rather hard to square with what you are saying.

Did anyone on the East Coast see this thing? Perhaps they have different versions of their programming on the east side of the continent or something. I know there are separate satellite footprints for the east and west sides, so it's entirely possible for the programming shown to the coasts to differ even with satellite TV. If so, it may be a good reason to complain, if half of North America got screwed out of watching that show.